I'm Strong to the Finish, Cause I Eat My Spinach

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I'm Strong to the Finish, Cause I Eat My Spinach

September 25th 2006 -
Spinach has been off of store shelves for the past two weeks as a result of an outbreak of illness associated with the leafy green. The specific source of the outbreak has not been confirmed, but it has been isolated to the Salinas Valley of California. Farms and processing plants in the area are being inspected for water contamination or other types of hygienic challenges, and since spinach grown in other parts of the country have not been implicated the leafy green should soon be available in stores throughout the country.

There is no need to fear spinach more than any other fresh fruit or vegetable, as it is not itself a carrier of illness. The disease is caused by a bacteria that is most commonly spread by contaminated water. It is also occasionally found in unpasteurized milk. In the case of the most recent outbreak, the spinach was exposed to contaminated water, either in the field or in the processing plant.

The Cause
E coli 0157:H7 is a bacterial illness that is usually caused by drinking contaminated water or food that has been exposed to contaminated water. Over 70,000 infections resulting in over 2000 hospitalizations occur annually in the United States. Sixty people will die of the disease in a typical year.

The disease is characterized by 12 to 24 hours of abdominal cramping and watery diarrhea often followed by fever and bloody stools. Muscle aching can be severe and intense abdominal cramping can occur.

Treatment involves fluid replacement and rest. It is important to avoid anti-diarrhea medications, as these can slow or stop the elimination of the organism from the body and prolong or intensify the illness. Antibiotics do not decrease the severity or duration of the disease. Measures that can decrease the severity and length of illness are the use of probiotics (supplements of protective bacteria) and absorptive fibers such as psyllium. Probiotics such as acidophilus help to crowd out the disease causing organisms and fiber supplements absorb water and toxins to help restore normal stool consistency. Take the probiotic every 4 hours until symptoms improve and then twice daily for the remainder of the bottle. Take a dose of fiber after each loose stool.

Taking a probiotic supplement periodically can lessen the chance of developing a severe illness from exposure to E coli 0157:H7 or other disease-causing bacteria. I recommend taking 2 capsules of a product such as Healthy Flora twice daily for two weeks every 3 months to help maintain a healthy intestinal tract that is able to withstand exposures to disease-causing organisms and prevent such infections from becoming life-threatening.

Dale Peterson, M.D.